‘Vicious cuts are putting officers at risk’, says police federation

PC Steph Wheeler
PC Steph Wheeler
Bob Higgins. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Bob Higgins trial: Jury retires to consider its verdict 

  • Federation says government cuts to force are putting officers are risk
  • It comes as Mark Fitzearle is jailed for assaulting PC Steph Wheeler while she was patrolling alone
  • The officer had serious damage to her teeth and says she has lost confident being out on the job by herself
Have your say

VICIOUS cuts to the police force are putting officers at risk.

That is the message from a police chief after an assault on a Fareham PC who was working alone left her with smashed teeth.

I have started to question how safe it is for an officer to be out on their own without knowing where the nearest unit is

PC Steph Wheeler

Steph Wheeler was on patrol in Gosport last month when she tried to arrest Mark Fitzearle, who threw handcuffs at the offiicer’s face, causing the injuries.

John Apter, chairman of Hampshire Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said government cuts are making officers vulnerable.

‘We have got fewer officers because of vicious cuts by the government,’ he said.

‘There are more and more officers like PC Wheeler who are going to feel more vulnerable because they have to go out single-crew. We have been speaking with the force to ensure officers can go out double-crew if they want to.’

Mr Apter added it should not be acceptable for assaults on police officers to happen.

‘We can’t have a society where it’s acceptable for police officers to be assaulted on the streets,’ he said.

‘With assaulting a police officer there’s going to be consequences.’

In response, Andy Marsh, chief constable of Hampshire police, told The News that statistics prove there is no link between single-crewed police and assaults.

Fitzearle was jailed at Portsmouth Crown Court for assaulting PC Wheeler while she tried to arrest him. He admitted assault of an officer and was sentenced to 16 months in prison.

The attack left PC Wheeler with broken front teeth and she said she has lost her confidence working alone.

The 33-year-old said: ‘When the attack happened, I was on single-duty and there was no-one to help me.

‘Since then, I’ve started to question how safe it is for an officer to be out on their own without knowing where the nearest unit is.

‘I’ve lost all confidence and have only been out with another officer since.

‘I know police officers have a dangerous job but you never expect to be attacked.

‘The damage to my teeth has affected my personal life because the extent of the injury is unknown. The nerve endings were exposed and the teeth could be dead.’

Portsmouth Crown Court heard from prosecutor Daniel Sawyer that Fitzearle, 34, had assaulted PC Wheeler while she tried to arrest him on criminal damage and theft charges which he was later sentenced for. She grabbed his arm and had her handcuffs in her hand. He pushed her and ran out of the house in Elson Road, Gosport. Fitzearle climbed a shed but was stopped when PC Wheeler grabbed his ankle with her free hand.

Mr Sawyer said: ‘As the officer grabbed him, he reached down and grabbed hold of the handcuffs. He then threw them at her face smashing her teeth. She then let go because of the pain.’

Daniel Reilly, defence barrister, said Fitzearle had not intended to throw the handcuffs at her face.

Sentencing Judge Linda Sullivan said: ‘I’m bound by the law to sentence you on the charge in which you were arrested but I think the offence was serious enough for actual bodily harm,’ she said.

‘It has had a huge impact on the officer and was a very serious offence.’

The court heard that Fitzearle, of Wickham Court, Gosport, had a long list of previous convictions including biting a police officer when he was 14. Other convictions included several battery offences, threats to kill and actual bodily harm.

MORE than 1,000 police officers were assaulted in Hampshire last year.

And it is the first time the figures were drawn from crime records, giving an accurate picture.

Hampshire Police Federation chairman John Apter is campaigning for forces nationally to take up his campaign to record the data properly.

His work with the chief constable at Hampshire Constabulary has already led to the Home Office publishing a national picture of assaults on officers.

But the majority of forces still use self-recorded health and safety records for officer assaults.

Mr Apter said: ‘There’s been a culture within the police service and some elements of the public that assaulting a police officer is an inescapable part of the job and something to put up with.

‘Assaulting a constable is never an acceptable part of the job.

‘It’s a risk but when they are assaulted they need to have the support.’

Part of Mr Apter’s work urges forces to work with local CPS offices to ensure assailants are charged.

Just last year 228 Hampshire officers were assaulted leaving lasting pain, hurt or minor injury (ABH).

And two officers were victims of grievous bodily harm.

The majority of violent assaults were classed as assault on constable under the Police Act 1996.

A further 16 officers were assaulted with intent to resist apprehension.

In total 1,007 officers were assaulted and 636 were assaulted without injury.

THE police have reinforced that people who attack officers will be punished by the court.

Deputy chief constable Graham McNulty has said the judicial system must show that assaults on police officers will not be tolerated.

‘Any assault on a police officer is an attack on society,’ he said.

‘Although they perform a dangerous and challenging role police officers should not expect to be assaulted.

‘But if they are the judicial system must show that there are consequences.’

It comes as 1,007 officers were assaulted last year.